Andy Blowers, chair of BANNG, considers this question in the October 2020 edition of Regional Life magazine.
Over recent months the Bradwell B issue has moved so fast it has been difficult to keep up. Having spent twelve years leading BANNG, chasing the shadowy prospect of a new nuclear power station at Bradwell, its sudden, almost unannounced emergence as a grotesque reality at the beginning of the year, days before lockdown, came as a sudden, almost violent, shock.
It was as if a hitherto passive population had been smashed in the face by a massive nuclear juggernaut, their tranquil environment and wellbeing about to be overwhelmed, destroyed and ripped apart by a dangerous and massive nuclear industrial complex.
The long years of waiting are at an end and Bradwell B has become a local, national and international battleground affecting not only the desecration of our Essex shores but encompassing geopolitical relations and the future of nuclear power itself.
After the heady excitement, we have a pause, time to take stock of what has occurred and to try to explain its significance. A way into this is to examine the power relations that comprise the conflict over Bradwell. There seem to me to be two levels of power which are interacting and changing over time.
Politics, finance and technology – a powerful combination
On the one hand there is the power of discourse, by which I mean the ideas, beliefs and values which shape our understanding of the world. It is difficult in this modern world of fake news, propaganda and prejudice to distinguish fact from fiction, good from bad. But, we can grasp the idea of a nuclear discourse. On one side are those who believe nuclear is necessary to achieve energy security (to keep the lights on) and environmental security (to combat climate change).
On the other side, these pro-nuclear ideas are countered by those who believe nuclear energy is no longer necessary (and certainly not in the longer term, ten years or so ahead) either to keep the lights on or to reduce carbon levels. These can be achieved more cheaply and safely by investing in alternative, renewable technologies, localised power networks and energy efficiency.
The second level of power may be termed the power of resources. Thus, the Chinese nuclear developer, CGN, is able to mobilise the resources of the Chinese military /industrial state linked to the all powerful Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is backed by the British government, keen for foreign investment. And it is able to deploy massive technological resources in the form of the Chinese-designed UK HPR1000 reactor.
This powerful combination of political, economic and technological power has encouraged CGN to claim that ‘Bradwell B would make a vital contribution to meeting the UK’s future need for low carbon electricity’. At the same time it can assert that the principle of need for new nuclear and the choice of Bradwell as a potentially suitable site are matters of government policy and not open for debate.
The power of protest – an irresistible challenge
There are signs that power is beginning to tilt towards an anti-Bradwell position. This is partly because the discourse, and with it the resources, of power are shifting. Big nuclear is on the wane as, one-by-one, the mega projects fail to get financial resources. Moorside in Cumbria and now Wylfa in North Wales have fallen by the wayside. The need for new nuclear is being undermined by the spectacular rise of renewables. Concerns about China’s designs on UK infrastructure are undermining support for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C, with Bradwell B already regarded as ‘toast’ by some commentators.
This shift in the national power context is reflected in the increasing ability to mobilise resources at local level. So, at Bradwell, from the moment the preliminary plans – with their mega reactors, spent fuel store, cooling towers, turbine hall, port facilities and roads threatening to trash a site imperilled by flooding – were published, a firestorm of anger, protest and bewilderment was unleashed. This quickly translated into political energy as protest groups, like BANNG and newly-formed Bradwell B Action Network (BBAN), mobilised public reaction and put pressure on local politicians to line up local councils against the project.
As resources of protest have gathered momentum, so the power relations have shifted around the Blackwater and Dengie. CGN, facing national hostility over security can no longer retreat to what might have seemed in the early days a local comfort zone.
At Bradwell, after a flurry of activity we may be at a tipping point. CGN, facing political hostility, could walk away or find it is no longer welcome. Or, it could persist with its proposals as other projects fail and it becomes the only game in town. But, Bradwell B faces many hurdles – financial, regulatory and planning – and its role has become immensely more difficult as the depth and strength of local opposition has grown.
The scales may fall from CGN’s eyes as it realises the Bradwell site it was offered with such fanfare in 2015, turns out to be a ‘pig in a poke’, an unsuitable site for a new nuclear power station. Surely it can no longer turn a blind eye to the fact that, sooner or later, Bradwell B will be dead in the (Black)water.